An Interview with Mr. John J. Kuchta, President of SolutionOne
By Matt Diggle and Sam Schuett, Creighton University MBA students
SolutionOne specializes in providing and servicing document and content management software, multifunction equipment, network printers and supplies and high-speed scanners. They are motivated by a 73-year commitment to present the best possible customer experience and deliver world-class service with knowledge and expertise.
Having been employed by the company in various positions for over 40 years, Mr. John J. Kuchta, now President/Owner, is a very integral part of the company’s success and its commitment to ethical business. He developed his sense of ethics at a very young age and instills in the company the importance of treating people with integrity and acting honestly.
What has made your company so successful over the years?
"In any company, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. If you have a lousy delivery person, that can ruin the image that somebody has about your company. Everyone has to perform their role, and there’s a great role for everybody in the company. Whether you’re the Vice President of Sales or the delivery person, you are key to our success, and that’s been my attitude about managing the company. Probably some of that is because I have had a lot of different positions in the company. If everybody has a role to play and they play it well, we are and will continue to be a great company.”
Having started off as a delivery person for SolutionOne, how did you get to where you are today?
“It’s a family business, but it wasn’t in my family. My father was a minority partner and, when the majority partner passed away, I became a stockholder. There was a buy-sell agreement in place, so we bought the partner out. Then my father passed away when I was 32 years old, and I have been running the business since then. I really had to learn the business very, very quickly at a very young age.”
Where did you develop your ethical foundation from?
“I remember exactly the day. I was about five or six years old, and I was with my mother. We went to the grocery store, and I was helping her shop. I took a package of yeast, thinking it was candy. My mother found out because I was digging around in my pocket with it. She made me go to the owner of that grocery store, give him my allowance money and tell him that I stole it. So at a very impressionable age, I learned the difference between right and wrong and paid the penalty. That stuck with me forever.”
Since you started in the beginnings of the business and worked your way up, did you ever see any unethical things take place?
“Always. I’ve experienced many different kinds of unethical behavior through the years. Our industry, like others, has the ability to falsify orders to get better pricing, which we will not do. It can be a common practice to falsify warranty claims or orders in order to get better pricing, but it’s a slippery slope. The minute that you step over that line, your employees see that and they start thinking, „Well maybe I can step over a line‟ and, of course, it just isn’t worth it. If you’re going to be in business for the long run, you have to do the right things, otherwise you won’t be in business forever.”
What actions do you take in order to avoid this unethical behavior?
“You try to develop rules of the road, processes to make sure that things get done correctly so that you don’t disappoint the customer or the employee. There’s nothing worse than an employee thinking they’re going to be paid so much for selling something and, then, they don’t get paid that. You just have to have rules in place. Our company works off of a process called mutual commitments. If you were to come and work for us, we’d enter into a mutual commitment. I would commit as your manager to all the things that SolutionOne is going to do for you and, then, we would ask you to commit to five or six things in writing that you’re going to do for SolutionOne. We enter into that agreement which deals with compensation, the kind of work you’re going to do and the number one facet in that commitment is to treat people with integrity and that you’ll be honest in your dealings with employees and companies we do business with. Our commitment back to employees is that we’ll deal with them honestly and treat them fairly.”
How do you ensure you hire ethical employees?
“The thing we try to do is hire the right person for the right job and have the right relationship. If they’re the kind of person that will fit on our team and will have those kinds of ethics, that is trustworthiness and honesty, then we’ll probably offer them a position with our company. We go through an exhaustive process of recruiting and selection. If you select the wrong person, that wrong behavior is going to be a problem that you have to manage around or it will create turnover in the company and that’s a very expensive process.”
Do you have a formal ethics program in place at your company?
“Part of it is our practice. Our policy manual is something that we review with our staff every year. All new employees go through an orientation on all of our policies and all of our processes. They understand that we want it done a certain way because we know that way works, our customers will be satisfied and the staff member will be successful. Through the whole process, integrity is the theme that runs through but it’s not what I would call an integrity course, if you will.”
What role does Corporate Social Responsibility play in your company, if any?
“We participate in a lot of civic and health and human services charities. United Way is something that we do every year, and I match dollar-for-dollar personally every contribution an employee makes. We have some contests and all that, but the bottom line is that, I’ll give a dollar, if you give a dollar.‟ That way, we do something in our community for the better good. Our company also has all kinds of „green‟ initiatives. We’re in the document technology business, which means we sell the devices that print on paper and create all this waste and so forth. So we recycle everything that we can recycle. We recycle printer cartridges, electronic equipment, paper, Styrofoam, wood pallets... everything that can be recycled. And we’ll recycle our customers‟ recyclables. If they have printer cartridges or empty toner cartridges, we recycle those for them as part of our corporate responsibility for having a greener planet.”
Given the current economic environment, do you think it’s easier or harder to conduct business in an ethical manner?
“When you see an opportunity, I think it’s always difficult to bypass that opportunity. But if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. You just have to stay focused on what’s right. The way I look at things, over the life of our company, and hopefully it goes on in perpetuity, minimizing expenses in the wrong way or cheating somebody isn’t worth the long-term effect on our company name. So we just won’t do it.”
What is the biggest ethical challenge that you think faces younger business professionals today?
“I think having good role models is probably the most critical thing for any young person that’s starting out in business today. Working for a company that has good ethics I think will cause a person to stay in the ethical realm, but you really need to find somebody that can help you be a success in business or in any pursuit. You have to have somebody who has good ethics and that can provide a foundation for your ethical decisions.”